UH Hilo Sociology Club plans semester of community-centric activities

The Sociology Club offers students many opportunities for sociocultural engagement, community service, and exploration around Hawai‘i Island.

Group of students crosses stream.
Members of UH Hilo’s Sociology Club often go on sociocultural field trips to explore Hawai‘i Island. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Sociology/UH Hilo)

By Evangeline Lemieux.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s Sociology Club is starting up again for another semester of activities.

The club, which welcomes sociology students and as well as other majors, is dedicated to helping the community through beautification projects and community service. These projects include things like beach cleanups, light landscaping of plant overgrowth and weeding, highway trash pickups, and fundraising with organizations who help those in need.

The club also offers students many opportunities for sociocultural engagement and exploration around Hawai‘i Island. The club takes monthly outings on Saturdays during the semester, many of which combine sociocultural education and activities with community service.

For example, on Saturday, Aug. 22, the club did landscape work at Lili‘uokalani Gardens in preparation for Queen Lili‘uokalani’s birthday celebration, an annual community event scheduled this year for Sept. 9. The club’s work day was followed by an evening stargazing trip on Maunakea and a picnic dinner.

Opportunities such as this are organized by the Sociology Club throughout the semester with dual emphasis on community service and sociocultural education reflected in the activities.

Alton Okinaka pictured
Alton Okinaka

Alton Okinaka, associate professor of sociology and the club’s advisor, speaks on the significance of the club’s projects.

“You’ll notice we have a bunch of day trips to different parts of the island, and that really helps students get an appreciation for the diversity of the island,” says Okinaka. “We talk about the history and the culture.”

Okinaka, a UH Hilo faculty member since 1987 who received the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Advisor/Mentor in 2005, says food is a big part of this cultural education, with traditional foods brought on every field trip for students to enjoy. He says exposure to these different cultural foods can help students connect in different ways to local culture. “They need to be exposed to the different foods and styles,” he says.

“Last year when we went up Maunakea for stargazing, I took a tub of takwan, and the Japanese exchange students were loving it,” says Okinaka. “I took a tub of Portuguese pickles, and a lot of my mainland students were enjoying that and other foods they had never had before—but hey, you’re in Hawai‘i, go try.”

This type of sociocultural engagement is offered by the club throughout the semester at many different sites all over Hawai‘i Island such as Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park, and the Hāmākua Coast.

The Sociology Club not only engages its members culturally with the sites they visit, the students also engage environmentally. Many members are majoring environmental science. Okinaka hopes to strengthen this facet of the club’s activities this semester with more ecological activities.

Group of people weeding wild landscape.
UH Hilo’s Sociology Club, which welcomes both sociology and other majors, is dedicated to helping the community through beautification and community service projects such as weeding public lands. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Sociology/UH Hilo)

“I’m hoping to arrange a day with the Maunakea support services where we can go up during the morning one day and pull invasive species,” he says. “It’s kind of nice to give back that way and it’s a really beautiful place to spend time.”

These types of sociocultural learning experiences—field trips, traditional foods, public service activities—give students a chance to interact with the local community, culture, and environment in ways that are mutually beneficial and make a lasting impact.

Okinaka encourages students interested in getting involved with UH Hilo’s Sociology Club to contact him for more information.

Story by Evangeline Lemieux, who is double majoring in English and medical anthropology at UH Hilo.

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